Texas A&M’s Dodson, Alaka expecting big things from experienced linebacker corps
Texas A&M starting linebackers Tyrel Dodson and Otaro Alaka expect their unit to be vastly improved this season and it’s easy as one, two, three.
“We’re going to cut down on missed tackles,” said Dodson, adding it’ll happen because they’ll know better where to line up. “[And] we’ll just be the best leaders we can be.”
The linebackers, a weak link in recent seasons, have a chance to be a strength because of experience, talent and depth.
Senior Alaka has a team-leading 33 career starts and junior Dodson adds 13. That’s more starting experience than all the returning defensive linemen combined and the top four returning defensive backs.
“We have more of a veteran group,” Alaka said. “There’s people who have been there 2-3-4 years, we have a pretty veteran group, and there’s guys who have proven themselves. I think we have a pretty good unit.”
The 6-foot-2, 242-pound Dodson had a team-leading 105 tackles last season, 11 of them for losses. He had 5.5 sacks, four quarterback pressures and three interceptions. Alaka was third on the team in tackles with 78. The 6-3, 240-pound Alaka had 12 tackles for losses, and also 5.5 sacks.
Backing up Dodson and Alaka are sophomores Buddy Johnson, Anthony Hines III and Ikenna Okeke. Hines and Johnson combined for 53 tackles as true freshmen last season. Hines had 33 tackles, six of them for losses to make the Southeastern Conference’s all-freshman team.
“Those guys are playing well, being consistent,” said A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher, adding that they’ve adjusted well to the formations and assignments of the new defensive scheme.
Linebackers and safeties have the most to learn in the 4-2-5 base alignment under first-year coordinator Mike Elko.
Dodson said he’s learning to play inside the defense and not get too overextended, trying to make big plays. He said becoming a better student of the game, mastering the ins and outs of downs and distances will help him be one of the smartest players on the field, leading to improved play.
Dodson was a bright spot in last year’s defense that allowed 30.7 points per game to rank 87th in the country. Dodson had at least 10 tackles in five games and averaged 8.1 per game to rank seventh in the SEC.
“I just think he’s going to build off last season,” Alaka said. “If he can do that, we’re going to be as good a unit [as there is] in the country.”
Dodson took to Twitter in May to brag on the group.
“This season is dedicated to everyone that disrespected A&M’s linebacker corps over the years,” he tweeted. “Time to show we are #LBU.”
Dodson said the work’s offseason work prompted the tweet.
Alaka also expects a banner season.
“I think we’re more focused, not even as a unit, just as a whole team,” he said. “This team is focused, really determined to show what we got and show this isn’t the same team.”
NOTES — Dodson’s roommate is fellow Tennessean Okeke, who is from Smyrna, roughly 20 miles from Dodson’s hometown of Franklin. The 6-2, 215-pound Okeke came to A&M as a safety. He took a redshirt in 2016 and played in two games last season, making four tackles. “He’s huge now,” Dodson said. “I kinda walk around the house, I used to be bigger than him, and I’m like, ‘I don’t know if I’m bigger than you now.’” Dodson has been impressed with Okeke’s progress. “He’s being a student of the game, he’s really physical, he’s very smart. He can cover, he can stop the run, so it’s going to be a fun year for him.” … Dodson’s tweet about how good the linebackers will be got a response from LSU junior linebacker Devin White, a good friend. “Me and him go back and forth, but that’s about it, it’s all fun and games,” said Dodson, adding that they are best friends because “iron sharpens iron.” White was a second-team All-American last season by USA Today and the Football Writers Association of America. … A&M returned to practice Sunday and will scrimmage Monday. … Northwestern State, which will open the season against A&M on Aug. 30, had its second and final preseason intrasquad game Saturday morning. … The Demons, a la the Aggies, haven’t named a starting quarterback. Four quarterbacks threw for 334 yards in the scrimmage on 34-of-55 passing with two touchdowns. Senior Clay Holgorsen was 14 of 21 for 113 yards. Junior Shelton Eppler, a transfer from Trinity Valley Community College who played at Navasota High School, was 9 of 16 for 78 yards with an interception.